Stonewall - Never Fall - (8.5/10)
Published on October 20, 2018
The classic American styled school of power metal (generally shortened to USPM) is generally classified by its most ardent adherents into two categories, one more aggressive and the other progressive. Omen, Liege Lord, Matthias Steele, Griffin, and Helstar exemplify the former while the latter includes Fates Warning, Crimson Glory, Titan Force, Slauter Xstroyes, and Sacred Blade. However there is a third category not often talked about that isn’t always talked about very often and doesn’t have a particular name. Generally a bit more conventionally hard rock oriented and accessible than either, it includes Fifth Angel, Shok Paris, Warrior, Exxplorer, and most of 80’s Savatage. Traditional 80’s style power metal has had a surprisingly strong showing this year with Weaponlord, Sacral Rage, ShadowKeep, Gatekeeper, and Riot V unleashing the best material of their careers yet among the progressive and speed metal leaning bands, two Italian bands from that more accessible category counted themselves among them. The first among them, Hitten, released their third album, an incredible mixture of Dio-style melodic accessibility with the tenacity of a late 80’s power metal act. Now, Stonewall join them with a beefy and highly headbangable sophomore.
Compared to most of the bands previously mentioned, Stonewall aren’t quite as fast or as riffy but make no mistake, they could easily decimate legions of their fluffy keyboard-driven Euro-style counterparts with ease. While Tony Scelzi and Pierluigi Guerrieri’s axe-work is consistently meaty and resolute, they don’t focus as much on sheer impact or technical finesse, combining an almost quasi glam like sense of catchy wristwork with the upgraded NWOBHM derived striking force of the USPM movement. They’re quite melodic in a kind of instantly gratifying and even soothing way with Dinigi Neri’s slightly strained mid range tenor perfectly aged and drawing out a great deal of personality from every line. It’s highly reminiscent of Sword’s 1986 classic Metalized (whom they covered on their 2011 debut) in how they can manage to be catchy enough for FM radio airplay.
Both albums never skimp on having a strong guitarwork that gives a varied rhythmic and melodic topography, actively counterpointing vocals – the lack of which is the primary shortcoming of much traditional and power metal regardless of style nowadays. However, there are quite a few fast-picked moments on the album and usage of leads embedded into riffs that almost hint at the early Scanner or Running Wild style European bands; a reminder that their relative accessibility shouldn’t be mistaken for softness. It is simple music at its heart but every element of their sound has been very specifically arranged and executed with an overwhelming charisma and confidence; it’s a gut-instinct level of satisfaction, rooted in the conventions yet performed by people who have honed the art to a fine point.
Like any great power metal, Never Fall opens up with a bang, four of them to be precise. From “Lethal Power” to “Walk on Fire” they fire on all cylinders – blazing power chords, energetic drumming, and incredibly anthemic occasionally gang-backed choruses ensures they hit the ground sprinting with a salvo of highly memorable bangers each infectiously catchy. The three in the album’s midsection demonstrate their comfort at slower tempos or understated melodies whether it’s the dramatic punchy chord climb and sudden tempo shifts of “From the Stars” or prideful fistpumping anthem that is “Let It Rise”. Even among the rest of the Never Fall’s fastest moments, its title track takes the cake as the one riff-swinging soldier to slay them all. An incredibly chunky attitude-laden riff carries its verses over an agile double-kick backdrop, switching phrasing mid-verse to keep you on your feet in a twisting-turning barrage. It takes the long way around to a domineering chorus backed by thick backing strum and a guitar solo that skirts the edges of self-indulgence with its bold semi bluesy showmanship. The album’s finale “Tear Down The Walls” concludes nearly an hour’s worth of metal with a tour de force of an upbeat stomping cadence, gradually upping the heaviness in a simple but effective build up to a title-referencing singalong chorus. It sounds simple even for them yet it’s so iconic and clear in its goals it’s hard not to find a part of yourself wanting to tap a foot or finger along to its infectious groove.
It’s strange that many of Stonewall’s stylistic predecessors never received much fame outside of the admiration of cult 80’s metal collectors. Their style while very specific was by and far the most easily understood and enjoyed the more cult classic metal styles, straightforward and immediate with little left ambiguous or off-kilter. It was almost like a superior alternative to the usual glossy glam metal that dominated the genre’s American mainstream, possessing a similar easygoing nature yet differing in that it didn’t compromise the red-blooded heart of the heavy/power metal domain. Is this style viable today however as a major player in the midst of the so-called New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal revival? You can find bands today like Ambush, Enforcer, Skull Fist, Air Raid, and Striker that while not 100% similar do also play a considerably smoothed down and more newbie-friendly take on an aggregate of 80’s metal ideas. I wouldn’t truly put Stonewall under the same grouping but their sophomore has made it clear that there’s more than one way to voice an adoration and respectful understanding of the past. While it’s doubtful they’ll become the new public face of catchy oldschool heavy/power metal, hopefully the latest from them and Hitten illustrates a tend towards a meaner take on ye melodic days of olde. Whether you are just dipping your feet in the quickly expanding repertoire of today’s classic metal or a longtime collector and veteran of the genre’s distant past, Never Fall will not disappoint.